Abuse Unit to Reopen

Island children one step closer to safety, as VIHA response team gets new lease on life

Abuse Unit to Reopen

Island children one step closer to safety, as VIHA response team gets new lease on life

Island children who have experienced sexual and physical abuse will have an extra helping hand from a newly forming specialized Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) abuse-response team.Thanks to the pediatric expertise of Dr. Wilma Arruda, VIHA has been able to reopen its specialized abuse assessment unit, also known as Health Assessment and Resources for Children (HARC). The unit — which is comprised of a leading specialist and child psychologists, nurses, social workers and more — has been closed for nearly two years due to funding restrictions after the previous doctor stepped away from the position. Now, Arruda will be selecting her team of child specialists to complete the HARC roster, which will be based out of Nanaimo as early as late spring. “As a pediatrician, I do see children from all walks of life, and seeing child abuse is something we face in our jobs,” Arruda says. She adds that while all general pediatricians do what they can to best assess situations of child abuse, teams like HARC are essential to medical care. “After the basics, like making sure a child is safe, abuse can be a very complex issue, and it really is up to a specialized team to deal with the findings.” Arruda is currently the advocacy chair of the B.C. Pediatric Society, and had close ties with the Ministry of Child and Youth Development. She has worked in Nanaimo since 1997, and says she’s had the opportunity to view a spectrum of at-risk youth in the north Island region.“We’re phenomenally lucky to have her,” Elaine Halsall, VIHA’s manager of child and youth family mental health, told media. “She’s an incredibly well-respected, experienced pediatrician. It’s beyond what we’d hoped for. It’s been a long time coming, but it certainly was worth the wait.”VIHA is still negotiating finances with the Ministry of Children and Family Development, which covered the $300,000 cost of the previous HARC unit.When it comes to child abuse in the region, the stats do seem grim. HARC receives about 200 referrals annually from around the Island, even since its closure, though most of these cases have been handled by emergency room doctors or physicians without specialized support. Meanwhile, the Island sees about 30 cases a year of seriously injured children who, until now, have had to travel with a social worker to Vancouver for expert assessment at the B.C. Children’s Hospital.It’s easy to picture these cases as young toddlers unable to help themselves, but Arruda says it’s important to remember that abused youth are seen well into their teens, and are just as badly in need of support. She also points out that abuse doesn’t always come from direct family members.“That’s the age-old question: at what age do you become an adult? For our purposes, we usually see youth until they are 18 or 19, though there can be a blurring of those lines,” she says. “When it comes to child abuse, the question really is, do we have good stats? There are, potentially, many cases that go unreported. For as much as we’re seeing, what aren’t we seeing?” Arruda’s team will not act as a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week service, and she points out that HARC will always depend on pediatricians to do initial assessment plans. But in terms of how the unit will operate, Arruda says she will have to see who the members are first. “What we have [for care] right now hasn’t yet covered all the needs,” she says. “There are so many factors to consider when calculating abuse — the emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing of a child, for example — that we can really only start to skim the top of an issue until we bring in that high level of knowledge.” Arruda says she will be reducing her time in her own practice in order to serve the needs of HARC, something she’s been interested in taking on for some time now. According to VIHA’s stats, as much as 40 per cent of the referrals come from the northern part of the Island, and travel is one of the largest deterrents to accessing help.“For many survivors of abuse and their families, the process of accessing help can almost be like one more level of abuse — you have to relive and often retell the situation,” says Arruda. “We don’t push children aggressively to be assessed. They have to want help, and to be a part of the team, part of the process. But you can imagine how adding two days of travel to that situation just layers on extra complications.” Arruda attended an international conference on child maltreatment in San Diego in January to update her skills, and plans to spend some time with Dr. Jean Hlady, a child abuse expert at B.C. Children’s Hospital. While she says she’s excited to be leading the team, she adds that finding a balance in her own life — as with any doctor — will be a key component of her success. “We do see a lot of happy and healthy children come through our doors, but we also see children with stories that are quite unbearable to hear,” she says. “There is a need for people to understand that this is out there and that we, as a society, have so often hid these dark secrets under the carpet. Can we find and help every case? No. But the more educated we are, the better we all can do.” M

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
Vancouver Island children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Nanaimo-raised singer Allison Crowe with director Zack Snyder on the set of ‘Man of Steel’ in 2011. Crowe performs a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in the upcoming director’s cut of ‘Justice League.’ (Photo courtesy Clay Enos)
B.C. musician records song for upcoming ‘Justice League’ film

Allison Crowe’s close connection to director led to rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah

The Gordon Head Recreation Centre stands in as the Quimper Regional Hospital on Feb. 23 for filming Maid, a 10-part Netflix series. (Greg Sutton/District of Saanich)
Netflix transforms Saanich recreation centre into hospital for filming

Facility was closed to public Feb. 23 for filming of Maid

This image released by SYFY shows Meredith Garretson, left, and Alan Tudyk in the new series "Resident Alien." (James Dittinger/SYFY via AP)
B.C.-shot ‘Resident Alien’ invader gets lift-off with viewers

New Syfy series catching on, proving TV doesn’t have to come from premium cable

West Coast-themed metal art by Nanaimo artists Hayley Willoughby (pictured), her father Jack and partner Blair LeFebvre is on display in the window of Lululemon at Woodgrove Centre from now until March 13 as part of the store’s monthly local artist program. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)
Metal artists present cross-generational show at Nanaimo’s Woodgrove Centre

Work by Hayley Willoughby, her partner and father on display in Lululemon window

Vancouver Island Symphony principal violinist and concertmaster Calvin Dyck is among the musicians performing in the upcoming Salmon and Trout concert. (Photo courtesy HA Photography)
Vancouver Island Symphony will make a splash with fish-themed quintets concert

Performance was to take place in November but was rescheduled due to COVID-19

Nico Rhodes, Lucas Smart, James McRae and Kosma Busheikin (from left) recorded their set for the Nanaimo International Jazz Festival’s online video series at the Harbour City Theatre in December. (Photo courtesy François Savard)
Music starts next week at online Nanaimo International Jazz Festival

Ten free, virtual performances to occur over three weeks in March

The original artwork created by local artist Emily Thiessen, is featured as the Commercial Alley’s eighth installation. (City of Victoria)
 The original artwork created by local artist Emily Thiessen, is featured as the Commercial Alley’s eighth installation. (City of Victoria)
Victoria calls for artists to fill Commercial Alley gallery

Competition open to artists in the Capital Regional District

Cowichan Valley author Teresa Schapansky’s books for young readers have become a phenomenon on Amazon. (Submitted)
Cowichan author tops Amazon charts

Award-winning author Teresa Schapansky learned of a need for low-level readers in the classroom

Nadia Rieger restocks some of the art supplies at the Crows Nest Artist Collective. Their move to stocking more art supplies over the course of the pandemic was a response to increased demand, which she thinks shows people have been turning to creating art to cope with mental health struggles due to lockdowns and restrictions on other activities. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror
Vancouver Islanders using art to conquer COVID blues

It seems people have been turning to their creative sides to stay mentally and emotionally healthy

Chris Bullock, Parksville artist, stands next to his ‘Mermother’ series, on display at the McMillan Arts Centre until Feb. 29. Bullock himself will be at the MAC from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. every Saturday until the end of the month. (Mandy Moraes photo)
Parksville artist Chris Bullock’s unique illustrations on display

‘I’m heavily influenced by old comic book styles from the 1950s’

VIU music instructors Hans Verhoeven, Ben Henriques and Ken Lister (from left) are presenting a weekly jazz performance series with pianist James Darling (not pictured). (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)
VIU music instructors presenting online jazz concert series

Musicians getting ‘back in shape’ performing American Songbook standards

Most Read